WeChat, Tencent Holdings’ (00700.HK) highly popular instant messaging application, is said to contain codes for mainland users that could put their privacy at risk, according to a mainland programmer.
The programmer, identified as “Janlay”, said on his Twitter page on Tuesday that WeChat’s Mac version, launched in March, contains “key logger” codes that could record what users type on their keyboards, thus storing information that could be accessed by a third party.
Francis Fong, president of Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, said passwords, including those for credit cards and online bank transactions, could be easily monitored if the codes also record inputs in users’ browsers or other software.
A WeChat spokesperson in Hong Kong said it has launched an investigation, the Hong Kong Economic Times (HKET) reported on Friday.
The WeChat app for Hong Kong users has been certified by TRUSTe, a leading data privacy services provider. However, the version for mainland users does not have this certification, the spokesperson said.
As of March this year, a third of the smartphone users outside China have downloaded the WeChat app, Headline Daily reported on Friday, adding that, with 20 language versions, it has become the fourth most popular mobile chat app after WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Skype, according to a market research released by GlobalWebIndex in May.
WeChat users have long been concerned about privacy protection and censorship issues. Mainland activist Hu Jia suspected his WeChat account was being monitored because police had asked him questions concerning information he only disclosed to friends on WeChat, HKET said.
In April, the central government launched a seven-month campaign to crack down on illegal activities on the internet. As part of the effort, a large amount of subscription accounts on WeChat were deleted for allegedly involving fraud, pornography and politically sensitive issues.
Some Hong Kong users encountered transmission failure when sending messages like “vindicate the June 4 protest”, HKET reported.
WeChat has different versions for mainland China, Hong Kong and other countries, according to Norman Tam, general manager of WeChat’s Hong Kong unit.
“We will follow the laws and regulations in the specific countries or areas,” Tam told Headline Daily, adding that WeChat does not store users’ chat histories on its servers.
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